Tuesday, March 20, 2007

No More Masterpieces (or why are we still teaching this?)

One of the things that I really love about working at Americans for the Arts is that I get to interact regularly with our numerous interns, most of whom are either in their final year of graduate or undergraduate programs in arts administration. It hasn't been that long since I myself finished graduate school, so I always like to compare notes on what is currently being taught.

When I was a theater management/producing graduate student at the California Institute of the Arts, I was required to read The Theatre & its Double by Antonin Artaud. One of the chapters in this book was entitled No More Masterpieces. In this chapter Artuad argues that works from the past "masters" (i.e. Shakespeare, Moliere, etc) shouldn't be produced regularly in current day because they are no longer topical--they no longer connect with current day audiences. In fact, they should be studied for a historical reference and viewed almost as museum pieces.

This is how I regard Danny Newman's book Subscribe Now!. Danny Newman is a legend in the arts marketing world, and definitely changed the wayperforming arts organizations marketed their products. His book was ground breaking in the 1970's. People started designing subscription campaigns around Danny's advice. He was the guru of subscription packaging. However times have changed. Theatre Communications Group for the first time reported that in 2005, revenue from single ticket sales surpassed subscription revenue. We all know that subscriptions (especially traditional ones) are becoming less and less popular. So why do we continue to teach the subscription method as the gospel in our arts administration classes?

Still to this day, a great majority of interns are still reporting that they are being taught the single ticket buyer--subscriber--donor pyramid that was developed in the 1970's. Why not teach this model in the proper context? Danny's book revolutionized arts marketing. It was responsible for the tremendous growth of hundreds of companies. But the tide has turned. We now need to address the fact that audiences are no longer subscribing at the rates they used to. We can either continue to teach an outdated model and send our students into the world unprepared, or we can present the current facts and hopefully one of them will be the next Danny Newman and come up with a brilliant solution.

Don't get me wrong. Danny Newman's book should be required reading for all arts administration students, but more in line with other historical texts such as Uptan Sinclair's The Jungle. The Jungle is a riveting description of the meat packing industry in the 1920's and was a catalyst for huge amounts of change, but is no longer considered an accurate description of the industry in current day.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Thrill Seekers vs. Fear Avoiders

Having problems convincing those at your organization about the marvels of new marketing technologies and practices? You might want to check out Seth Godin's blog entry on Thrill Seekers. I think this sums it up, don't you?

Let me just go on the record and say that Seth's blog is brilliant. I love his observations. While you are at it, check out his blog entitled Where Do You Park?

So now that you have read these two blog entries, which are you: a Thrill Seeker or a Fear Avoider? Do you park right in front or do you park down the street? Now, overall, what type of organization do you work for?

Obstacles increase drama, but kill sales

Back when I was in college, I had to take two years of directing class because I was a theatre education major, and it was well known as a theatre teacher that you would have to direct at least one play a year. I had a professor in my second year that said to heighten the drama, a director needed to increase obstacles which would increase the level of conflict. This approach might work in directing, but the exact opposite is true in sales.

I was invited to speak at a graduate arts management class at George Mason University. One of the things I discussed was the concept of eliminating obstacles. It is very important to get feedback from your prospects, because they will tell you all the potential obstacles in their way. Your job as a marketing professional is to eliminate those obstacles. Make the purchasing process the easiest thing in the world. Take every credit card (unless you get killed in processing charges). Have an online box office so that the insomniacs can order tickets at 2am. Consider offering subscribers a payment plan so that they can make several smaller payments instead of one major one.

When looking at obstacles, remember that perception is reality. For example, when I was working at Virginia Stage Company (VSC), there was a perception that parking in downtown Norfolk was really difficult. Nothing could be further from the truth. The city has over 20 public parking garages and there was a huge mall right across the street that offered parking for $2. Our patrons were remembering a time almost ten years prior when downtown Norfolk wasn't a thriving arts district. However, we had to address their perceptions, so still to this day, VSC operates a very busy valet service.

All things being equal, the company that goes out of its way to eliminate obstacles will fare much better than one who ignores them. If I have to get in my car and deliver your tickets to sell a subscription, then so be it...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thinking about creating a blog (Part 2)...

If you are thinking about creating a blog for your organization, there is one thing I cannot stress enough: make sure those who will be contributing content have bought into your idea! I have created a couple of blogs for different organizations, and I must say that I have learned this the hard way. Don't get me wrong. I think that blogging is very effective if done right, but that is a really big IF. Many organizations launch blogs and don't do it right, and when the blog fails they blame it on the ineffectiveness of the technology.

Readers of a blog don't want to get hit with your marketing messages! If you try a hard sell technique with every blog, of course your readers are going to start tuning out your blog. You need to offer your readers a reason to read your blog, and a way to do that is to offer exclusive content that they can't get anywhere else. This is the reason that while at Virginia Stage Company, I started to post video clips of rehearsal and "behind-the-scenes" footage on our blog. People want to hear from the artists. They want to see what is going on behind-the-scenes. No matter how effective you are at crafting marketing language, I am telling you now that they don't want to hear from marketing people.

So this leaves us in a pickle. It is a great way to market our organizations and create stronger bonds with our audience, but we have to rely upon our artistic staff (at least in part) to populate the blog with content. So before you launch a blog, make sure that there are several people on your artistic staff that would be willing to take some time out of their day to share their experiences. Without their input, the blog will be boring.

On a side note, in a conversation I was having a little while ago, I heard one artistic person say to a marketing staff member that they weren't interested in blogging because "getting the word out about the show wasn't their job." Let me leave you with these thoughts, and yes they might be a little controversial--if you want a paycheck, or better yet, the opportunity to produce your art, then yes, it is your job! I once worked for a very well known producing artistic director who at every annual meeting said to all the staff "you might work in another department, but remember we all work for marketing and development." And he was an artist! But he understood that in order to produce his work, he had to help with getting the word out. In my experience, I have found that many more artists are willing to help out if given the proper direction than unwilling, but if you get into a situation where the entire artistic staff isn't willing to help market a production, you have a problem. And the organization you work for has a much bigger problem. Just my two cents...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

MySpace and Arts Organizations...

Still having a tough time convincing administration about the use of MySpace? Check out today's article in the New York Times:


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Thinking about blogging?

Check out Mark Collier's blog today about content: http://www.mpdailyfix.com/2007/02/company_blog_or_online_brochur_1.html.

When I talk to folks about setting up a blog for their company, I tell them to really think about how they craft their language. People don't want to get a hard sell from the marketing department every time they read your blog. They want something interesting. Something exciting.

Dale Carnegie, one of America's most prolific writers on networking, once said "the only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it. Why talk about what we want? That is childish. Absurd. Of course, you are interested in what you want. You are eternally interested in it. But no one else is. The rest of us are just like you: we are interested in what we want."

Remember that thought when you are writing your company's blogs...

Growth for an Established Brand

Over the course of the past couple of weeks, I have been giving a presentation entitled New Technologies in the Marketing Mix to several different groups, including the Arts & Business Council of New York. Every time I give this presentation, I warn folks before I begin, that it will look like I am advocating new viral strategies over traditional marketing techniques. In all honesty, they should be complimentary. I would never advocate completely eliminating direct mail campaigns. Those types of campaigns are very effective with certain demographics. What I do advocate is diversification. Just as your stock portfolio should be diversified, your marketing plans should use all the tricks in your bag.

In the United States, there are four generations dominating the economy: World War II generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y. If you have an established brand, most likely you will have a strong presence amongst the World War II generation and the Baby Boomers. These two generations respond well to traditional marketing techniques. If you want your established brand to grow and expand, you need to look to Generations X and Y. New marketing technologies make it cheap and easy to reach these generations, however they require a time commitment. You need to learn how to use them. You need to learn how to craft your message properly. You need to be committed to providing an interactive, on demand messaging system. For those behind the curve in the technology department, really look at how you are reaching out to Generation X & Y. If you aren't, you might want to think about how to hit these important market segments. These folks are going to be your new donors, new board members, and new audiences.